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DALLAS-You can shop till you drop in Texas, but you can’t always buy what you want. Investors looking to pick up the hot ticket–neighborhood and community centers–are finding it’s slim pickings.

Property owners, reaping steady returns, aren’t parting with holdings. The incentive to sell real estate isn’t there, at least not with the stock market being so volatile. It’s good steady income, consumer sales are high and occupancy on the average is 95% in Texas’ Big 4 of Dallas-Ft. Worth, Austin, San Antonio and Houston. And, the few who do sell have would-be buyers pushing the price, say area executives.

The hottest ticket, if it can be found, is a grocery-anchored center. There’s ample quality product, but not an ample supply of willing sellers, Jim Batjer, senior director of Dallas-based Holliday Fenoglio Fowler, tells GlobeSt.com. These days, many owners are electing to refinance instead of sell. Leading retail brokers in Dallas-Ft. Worth and Austin concur all the way down the line with Batjer’s assessment of the market.

The Holliday Fenoglio Fowler investment sales team has hawked just 10 centers, with an aggregate 2 1/2 million sf, in three years. The bottom line was $350 million.

Batjer is poised for a flood of offers for the 194,119-sf Cedar Hill Crossing, which has just come to market after delivering earlier this year. It has all the right stuff, including long-term leases and positioning at four corners of retail. New York City-based Kimco Developers Inc. is seeking $23 million. Bets are in that the price and possibly more will be met.

Those kind of listings, stresses Batjer, are just few and far between all across the state. “Investors are always attracted to the Texas market. We have a lot of retail demand from investors and a lot of retail demand from consumers,” he says.

Greg McDonald, executive vice president of Dallas-based Weitzman Group, says the DFW market’s been dark of late with regard to neighborhood or community centers coming to market. “It’s not necessarily a slump,” he says. “People are just comfortable holding onto them.”

There’s also a big spread between bid and ask and it’s getting wider, says McDonald. Buyers want 10 1/2% to 11% cap rates and sellers, 9 1/5% to 10%.

McDonald’s heard talk about some pretty good quality centers hitting the market in the near future. “But until those better centers become available, I don’t think we’ll see much activity,” he tells GlobeSt.com.

McDonald’s specialty of big box sales also has tightened. He says a number of chains are sitting tight on decisions, even about dumping under-performers. “Right now, we’re at a status quo,” he assesses.

Austin’s retail broker in the know, Kelly Shaw, now a principal at SCC Development, says the transaction pace in his homeport is “more aggressive than Dallas and Houston.” It’s all thanks to tough development regs creating high barriers to entry. Properties bring premium prices in a market boasting 95.5% occupancy. And by 2004, it could spike to 97%, he says, citing a recent study around town.

Austin’s just like its sister cities. Grocery-anchored centers are “the most sought after type of retail by institutions and REITs,” Shaw says. But just try and find them. In the past 18 months, he can only recall three grocery-anchored centers changing hands, one power center and two class C retail centers. There are buyers, there is product, but there are few, if any, “for sale” signs.

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